Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong

Translation service helps Hong Kong police break down language barriers

Force can now instantly link ethnic minority residents seeking help to translators in seven languages

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2016, 7:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2016, 9:44am

Hong Kong police joined hands with a government funded NGO to launch an instant interpretation service to support ethnic minorities who face language difficulties when seeking assistance at police reporting centres.

TransLink is the latest initiative by the force to break down barriers. It connects the police officer and a person seeking help but who is not comfortable speaking Chinese or English with an interpreter from the Centre for Harmony and Enhancement of Ethnic Minority Residents.

“When we had no TransLink in the past, our colleagues used Google translation or body language to communicate,” Chief Inspector Jan Wong Ping-ping, from Kowloon West region, said.

“We hope to understand their needs instantly and provide our service accordingly.”

The service was first tested at police stations in Tsim Sha Tsui, Yau Ma Tei and Sham Shui Po in November 2014 and gradually extended to reach all stations last month.

It is available in seven languages: Hindi, Nepali, Tagalog, Thai, Punjabi, Urdu and Bahasa Indonesia.

Police said the service was only available to ethnic minority citizens if they sought help directly at reporting rooms in person or by phone. The force is considering extending it to cover emergency 999 services.

Police say their efforts to include minorities should be model, but activists urge serious action

“In the case of taking a statement or if it is a criminal case, we follow judicial procedures and provide an authorised interpreter in accordance with the law,” Wong said.

As of September, the instant interpretation service had been used 143 times, covering general inquiries, property losses and disputes.

The most common used language was Urdu, which accounted for 26 per cent of cases, followed by Nepali (18 per cent).

Several years ago the force rolled out Project Himalaya and Project Gemstone in Yuen Long and Yau Tsim district respectively in a bid to help ethnic minorities better integrate.

The aim was to improve their Chinese language proficiency and boost their confidence in joining the force or government.

Superintendent Mohammad Khan, assistant district commander of Yau Tsim district, is mentor to 170 people under Project Gemstone. It offers tailor-made Chinese classes and group activities guided by volunteers from the force.

“We do not give them the fish but the fishing rods. We need to find exits for these youngsters,” Khan said. “They should feel they are an important part of society.”

Eight mentees ended up joining the force and now serve in Yau Tsim, Tsuen Wan, Yuen Long, Tuen Mun and Kwai Chung, areas with large numbers of ethnic minorities.

“If we have cases in Tsim Sha Tsui or Yau Ma Tei, we need someone from the ethnicity to understand the people involved better,” Khan said.

One mentee also joined the Correctional Services Department and another was recruited by the Fire Services Department.